by Sarah Paulk
January – April, 2006
“An epic tale of good versus evil” seems to be the tag line used most often for this skillfully directed film. Intriguing and delightful, “Narnia” draws even the most fantasy-phobic of viewers into its thrilling plot filled with drama, suspense, creative battle scenes and well-placed sprinkles of humor.
I have to admit that I’m not a lover of the fantasy genre. I get bored with dragons and mythological creatures. Call it a reality-complex but I’ve never been able to get into the likes of dwarfs, fawns and talking beavers—until now.
The Chronicles of Narnia drew me in from the beginning. Maybe director Andrew Adamson and author C.S. Lewis knew there would be fantasy-skeptics out there like me because the movie began with a very real sense of mortality and human turmoil.
Set in Great Britain during the air raids by Nazi Germany, four siblings, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are living with the realities of war. After being evacuated and, in a well-acted and heart-wrenching scene, separated from their mother for what is expected to be the remainder of the war, they are assigned to live with a man known only as “Professor.” The children soon become bored by the new strict house rules and look for ways to entertain themselves in the large castle of a home where they now live. After engaging in a game of hide-and-seek, Lucy (who provides the most delightful performance of the foursome) wanders into an empty spare room that contains only an old wardrobe. Curious, opens the wardrobe, is drawn in by the fur coats. She expects to touch the back of the wardrobe but she keeps walking and soon finds herself in the enchanted land of Narnia.
This is usually the part of a film where I would roll my eyes, glare at my watch and start my grocery list on the back of my movie stub. But somehow Lewis in his book and Adamson’s in his directing knew what amount of equal-parts reality and fantasy to mix together to create a thrilling movie that would appeal to audiences from both sides of the spectrum. Even though I’m well aware that logically Lucy couldn’t enter a snowy enchanted land through the back of a coat closet, I’m drawn into her delight and joy as she explores this new world she has stumbled upon.
Lewis seems to play off of the fact that most people would consider this very idea to be completely unrealistic as he devotes an entire scene to the Professor passively convincing the older siblings that, despite its seemingly illogical occurrence, Lucy had indeed found Narnia. The Professor asks Susan and Peter, “Has Lucy ever lied to you before?” to which the siblings admit has never happened. “Then, ‘logically’ she must be telling the truth.” I had to laugh at this as I realized that dialogue written so many years ago was pertinent even today.
The innocence of the youngest child, Lucy, lent her a better understanding of Narnia because she hadn’t been jaded by the calluses that maturity had brought her older siblings. Her innocent faith allowed her entrance into this magical kingdom. Beginning to see parallels here? “If anyone is to come to me, he must become as one of these little children . . .” comes to mind.
Soon all four siblings enter Narnia to discover they have stepped into more than they bargained for. Evil has overtaken the land through the rule of an evil queen and has brought with it winter for the last one hundred years. Tensions increase within the sibling relationship as Edmund defies the authority of his older siblings and is deceived by the White Witch (masterfully portrayed by Tilda Swinton). A treacherous journey begins as they learn of the prophecy of Narnia that has awaited their arrival and discover that they, along with the powerful lion, Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), are the only ones who can break the reign of evil in the land and save their enslaved brother, Edmund.
The spiritual emphasis of this plot is wonderfully communicated. I am thankful to the director and his team for not shying away from what could have been a very controversial story line. Certainly, they were intentionally ambiguous as to the religious parallels within the movie, stating that they would only try to maintain the dignity of the book and the viewer would get out of the movie what they got out of the book—whether that included religious elements or simply an excellent adventure tale. It seems a poor way to appeal to all audiences but finding the sacred in the secular is one of the great adventures of the Christian life.
What so strongly appeals to me in this movie is that each character has their own inner turmoil—not from being abducted by aliens or spellbound by the sorcerer in his castle like most painful fantasy flicks but from a very believable underlying struggle of the battle between good versus evil. Each character has to decide which he or she will choose. Granted, during this struggle the siblings are surrounded by talking beavers, foxes and an unexpected visit from Santa Claus, but this, to me, speaks of an incredibly strong story line: that it can maintain all these elements and result in a beautifully complex movie that resonates with both children and adults.
The story itself has stood on its own for years as countless fans have delved into the world of Narnia via Lewis’s books. This was a good and bad issue for the film; the loyalty that so many people had for those books from reading them as children has provided a large audience lining up at the box office, but it has also set some high expectations for the production of the film.
Definitely helpful in this effort is what director Andrew Adamson dubs “photo-real imagery.” This special visual effect, which did not exist only five years ago, allows Aslan to be believable as a lion and makes talking beavers seem logical. I’ve heard some people say they feel that the new effects of talking animals and modern elements of digital imagery and such have added an adulterating modern element to a literary classic. Nonsense! Anything less than what Adamson used in this film would have made it appear as a bad cartoon and would have created a painful experience akin to the animated version of the movie that most of us were forced to watch as youngsters in Bible class.
The very real and ferocious yet gentle and compassionate Aslan can represent a brilliant allegory of the Son of God. He is the authoritative, wise leader you instantly trust and long for relationship with. There is a scene in which Susan and Lucy accompany Aslan during his journey to what he knows will be his death. The girls cling to his mane and walk with him in silence, recognizing the sacredness of the moment and content simply because they are in his presence. This is such an intense example of what relationship with Christ is like. We grasp his hand and walk with him, not knowing where we are headed but completely content to be with him even in our uncertainty. The purity of that moment is so inspiring and I found myself sitting in my theatre seat, aching for more relationship with Christ.
The absence of gore and gruesome brutality allowed me to involve myself much more strongly in the scene where Aslan gives his life to pay Edmund’s debt of betrayal (an almost obvious comparison to the crucifixion). Demonic beings and mythical creatures swarm around Aslan as he prepares himself for the sacrifice. His lonely walk to the Stone Table where Jadis, the White Witch, awaits with a knife intended for him, is made more poignant by the heckling of all things evil. I had never realized the spiritual significance of the crucifixion better than I did after watching this scene. There had to have been such spiritual warfare taking place during the crucifixion and surely Jesus was aware of its presence. To understand that there was turmoil beyond what could be seen in the physical realm adds even more appreciation for Jesus’ death on the cross.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a movie that has become an unexpected favorite of mine. Unlike many fans, I did not embrace C.S. Lewis’s books as though they were sacred, and I most certainly was not excited about sitting through a fantasy movie of that length. However, this movie was made with such cinematic excellence that I can’t help but fall in love with the story that so strongly resembles our own faith struggles. It is an excellent movie for teaching younger children the more difficult concepts of Christianity and it helps we callused adults remember what “childlike faith” really means—without having to watch Veggie Tales.
Sarah Paulk is a freelance writer, an average cook and a very happy wife who actually likes her mother-in-law. She and her husband, Brock, live in Texas where they work together in youth ministry and daily learn more of what it means to minister to the eighty youth group members they call “their kids.” You can contact Sarah via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.